Council takes first steps in affordable housing subdivision

Opportunity Villages Community Land Trust draft plan. (Photo courtesy the Municipality of Chatham-Kent)

The municipality is supporting a new affordable housing project that’s being billed as the first of its kind for Chatham-Kent.

The Opportunity Villages Community Land Trust project is described as a 30 home subdivision set to be built between Taylor Avenue and Memory Lane in Chatham. On Monday night, council voted in favour of giving a $380,000 grant towards the project to assist with construction costs, planning application fees, building permit fees and public utility related fees.

The Opportunity Villages Community Land Trust Corporation is currently in the process of getting its private not-for-profit status and is made up of a volunteer board. The goal is to help address the shortage of affordable homeownership options in Chatham-Kent.

According to John Norton, general manager of community development in Chatham-Kent, land trusts are a relatively new concept in Canada but have become common practice in the United Kingdom. Norton explained that land trusts are geared toward offering affordable homeownership and protects against people buying the houses and then flipping them for a profit.

“The idea is that the land trust will own the land. The individual unit owners will buy and own their building. They will only have the right to sell it to someone else at a fixed increase in price, maybe one per cent a year or whatever they decide. If the market gets ahead of that and grows faster, when an individual does go to sell, they’ll get the equity that they’ve invested into it over the years… they will get a small increase but they won’t get a very large increase,” explained Norton.

Homes in the Opportunity Villages Community Land Trust development will be between 600 to 1,000 square feet with a proposed price range of $130,000 to $180,000, making them around 25 per cent below current market prices. Norton said they will also be energy efficient. According to a preliminary drawing, the neighbourhood will be a mix of single-family homes as well as multi-dwelling units and is also set to feature a common area and a garden.

Councillor Karen Kirkwood-Whyte is assisting the members of the Opportunity Villages Community Land Trust board. She said she’s hopeful that the completion of the project in Chatham will enable the group to eventually work on similar ventures across the municipality.

“I’m absolutely thrilled that we had unanimous support for this initiative,” she exclaimed. “It is a first of its kind initiative here in Chatham-Kent and it sets a wonderful model for some additional projects like this that could be built in other areas of Chatham-Kent.”

In addition to the $380,000 grant, council also approved offering a grant equivalent to the property taxes for 10 years. As part of the agreement in receiving the funds, the Opportunity Villages Community Land Trust Corporation will have to report back to the municipality with how the money is being used, its business plans and legal status. The grant money will be funded from municipal strategic reserves.

Mayor Darrin Canniff was in full support of the project. He said in addition to helping with the affordable housing crisis, it will also benefit the municipality as a whole.

“That target range is going to bring in the young families that are looking for gainful employment,” he said. “We need people for that, it’s a really good solution. I’m looking at this as an investment in our community, not a cost. This is an investment. When we start attracting more people into the community to afford a house, we’re creating more workers, etc. So it’s a real investment.”

According to Kirkwood-Whyte, the group has an “aggressive” timeline for getting the project started and said they’re hoping to start construction in the spring of 2020. The project site has been secured however, several planning approvals will still need to be completed and brought back to council. In the meantime, she encourages anyone who wants to get involved in the initiative to get in touch with her directly.

“We’re looking for investors, we’re looking for sponsors and were also looking for future residents,” she said.